Address: 7/ 255 Lincoln Rd, Henderson
Phone: (09) 972 9847
Cuisine: Pacific Rim fusion
From the menu: Seafood chowder $16, salad Nicoise $20, nasi goreng $22, pata pork knuckle $22, chicken kawali $22
It's a good thing the new Outrageous Fortune spin-off is set in the 70s because the West Auckland of 2015 is starting to get a bit fancy — farmers' markets, world-class dining and girls who hold out until the second date.
Okay, so maybe that last one is an exaggeration, but the other two are true. We go most weekends to Hobsonville Market for the best tomatoes in the city, stopping off at The Bread House in Avondale for perfect organic rye bread that lasts all week. And now we have discovered Chikos, home of a multi-award winning chef and his affable mentor.
I came across Chikos in a press release congratulating the three New Zealand finalists in the Pacific region of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year competition. The first finalist works at Cocoro, Auckland’s best date restaurant (not even city girls stand a chance here). The second is at Orphans Kitchen, my go-to recommendation for anyone visiting from out of town. And the third is from Chikos, making Henderson the place to go for Pacific Rim fusion.
William Mordido is the chef, and you’ll see him working hard behind the pass — that is, when he’s not obscured by the giant trophy he got for winning Chef of the Year in the 2014 NZ Culinary Fare competition. He’s clearly the real deal, and he’s not even head chef at his own restaurant.
That head chef position is held by Roberto Manuel, who spent years presiding over the 33 food outlets at SkyCity before giving it all up to open his own place with his wife, Chiko. She works front of house and is so lovely he named the restaurant after her, breaking the local tradition of bestowing the names of your most treasured on dogs and boats.
Atmosphere-wise, they’ve done the best they can with a slightly challenging venue — the southwest corner of a Lincoln Rd strip mall. Natural wood and stone textures contrast with the industrial surrounds, and though it won’t win any awards for interior design, it’s a nice enough place to spend an hour or two eating what is quite incredible food.
At the risk of sounding like a rejected Eminem lyric, the dishes are ambitious. Take nicoise salad, generally a straightforward toss-up of tomato, canned tuna, boiled egg, anchovies and olives. At Chikos the tuna is fresh and seared, the anchovies are panko-crumbed sardines, the egg is a smoked fish omelette and the olives are an inky tapenade.
Having secured the major flavours, the chefs then work on the colour palette, with radishes and bright flowers completing the overall look.
That’s just one of the entrees, each of them a big feed for 20 bucks (unusually, the mains are all 22). I wanted to try as much as possible so my buddy and I ordered six dishes between us for lunch.
Chiko was worried. “It’s too much,” she said. We dropped one of the entrees. “No, it’s still too much,” she insisted. We held firm. She considered things for a few seconds, then decided to read our order back to us slowly so we would finally understand that we were being monstrous. But we weren’t backing down.
Later, she brought the food to our table.
“This is too much!” I cried. “How could you let us order all of this?” But Chiko wasn’t born yesterday; she knew I was foxing her.
I started with a beautiful seafood chowder, full of real fishy bits and served in a metal ladle with a filo-wrapped prawn cigar and pimped garlic bread topped with tomatoes, pesto and a sliver of smoke-cured fish. It’s a lot to get your head and your mouth around but it works, and I recommend it unreservedly.
Chef Roberto isn’t afraid of the deep fryer, and both the half-chicken and pork knuckle came with a crunchy batter, though free of any residual grease. That hock is a tribute to his Filipino heritage and comes with pickled fennel and pear, shrimp paste and not quite enough of a deep dark peanut sauce.
Nutty, fatty and sharp, it’s great guy food, and I was there with a great guy: comedian Ben Hurley, who despite living in an identifiably western suburb himself was at pains to point out that Chikos was 11 minutes from his house while Ponsonby Rd was only 12 minutes. Hurley loved his comparatively classic nasi goreng, so much so that he was planning to return with his family the following day, and presumably not just to save 60 seconds in traffic.
It’s that sort of restaurant — welcoming and easy — and it’s not surprising that the tables are full most evenings, when they switch to a slightly more refined menu. My main complaint is there’s no decent wine by the glass. More alarmingly for the locals, there’s nothing by the cask either.